Velcro, romance, and consuming the flesh of crustaceans

When I describe my favorite sponge to others, yes I have a favorite sponge, I describe it like this:

Imagine a mosquito lands on your arm to feed.  The mosquito is caught in your long arm hairs.   The insect is trapped unable to fly away.  Within in short order, your epidermal cells mobilize growing a thin layer of skin over the mosquito.  These cells slowly digest mosquito providing you the nutrition to repeat the process again with the next unlucky flying insect.

Abestopluma monticola from Lunsten et al. 2014

Abestopluma monticola from Lunsten et al. 2014

My favorite sponges, in the group Cladorhizidae, feed almost exactly like this.   In a recent paper, my friend and colleague Lonny Lundsten from the Monterey Bay Aquarium describes four new species of these unique sponges.  The first is Abestopluma monticola, the scientific name referring to where it was first discovered, a seamount (Latin mont = mountain + -cola = dweller).

Asbestopluma rickettsi  from Lunsten et al. 2014

Asbestopluma rickettsi from Lunsten et al. 2014

The second is Asbestopluma rickettsi named for the famous intertidal ecologist Ed Ricketts, made famous by John Steinbeck.

Cladorhiza cailettie from Lundsten et al. 2014

Cladorhiza caillieti from Lundsten et al. 2014

The third is Cladorhiza caillieti named for Gregor M. Cailliet, Professor Emeritus at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories a well respected ichthyologist and deep-sea biologist.

Cladorhiza evae from Lunsten et al. 2014

Cladorhiza evae from Lunsten et al. 2014

But the last name and the reasoning behind is the one that moves me most, Cladorhiza evae. In Lonny’s own words

Named in honor of Eve Lundsten, beautiful wife of the first author whose commitment and support have endured through the years. Eve’s love for the Gulf of California also inspired this naming as the type specimen was collected.

Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 4.03.57 PMWhat sets the species of the deep-sea Cladorhizidae apart is a unique type of spicule, the silica rods that serve as the scaffolding of sponges.  This unique spicule of Cladorhizids is hooked.  These spicules occur across the surface of the sponge like velcro. These can snag crustaceans that land or swim near the sponge.   Once a crustacean is caught the cells mobilize and…well you know the rest of the story. What makes Lonny’s paper unique, other than describing four new species that is, is the inclusion of set of spectacular plates that actually show crustaceans caught and covered in a layer of sponge cells.  This behavior is also unique among sponges as most are perfectly content filtering particles out of the water and not consuming living flesh of nearby crustaceans.

Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 4.03.21 PM LUNDSTEN, L., REISWIG, H., & AUSTIN, W. (2014). Four new species of Cladorhizidae (Porifera, Demospongiae, Poecilosclerida) from the Northeast Pacific Zootaxa, 3786 (2) DOI: 10.11646/zootaxa.3786.2.1

Dr. M (1801 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Executive Director of the Lousiana University Marine Consortium. He has conducted deep-sea research for 20 years and published over 50 papers in the area. He has participated in and led dozens of oceanographic expeditions taken him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses on how energy drives the biology of marine invertebrates from individuals to ecosystems, specifically, seeking to uncover how organisms are adapted to different levels of carbon availability, i.e. food, and how this determines the kinds and number of species in different parts of the oceans. Additionally, Craig is obsessed with the size of things. Sometimes this translated into actually scientific research. Craig’s research has been featured on National Public Radio, Discovery Channel, Fox News, National Geographic and ABC News. In addition to his scientific research, Craig also advocates the need for scientists to connect with the public and is the founder and chief editor of the acclaimed Deep-Sea News (, a popular ocean-themed blog that has won numerous awards. His writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.